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  • By: Moss Bollinger
  • Published: October 13, 2021
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In straightforward terms. Successfully asserting a right to collect damages in a personal injury case means proving that another party’s negligent conduct caused your injuries. However, it is a bit more complicated since negligence requires proof of a list of elements.

California law defines ordinary negligence as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or others. Defendants accused of negligence in California are legally responsible for the harm they cause if they performed some action that reasonable persons would not do in the same situation or if they failed to do something that reasonable persons would do in the same situation.

The following is the classic list of elements required to establish negligence. Many jurisdictions combine these elements into four, even three, elements.


Negligence law judges the choices that we make to engage in conduct as right or wrong, proper or improper. These choices are deemed wrong or improper only if they breach a preexisting obligation or duty, thus giving some definitional coherence to the negligence inquiry. Duty, or the obligation of one person to another, flows from centuries of social customs, philosophy, and religion. In early law, the standard of care imposed on one person for protecting others was based primarily on the formal relationship between the parties, such as innkeeper-guest, doctor-patient, etc.

As society evolved, a general standard of care became necessary to govern the conduct of persons and enterprises who unavoidably impose risks of injury on others in everyday life. Thus, negligence law developed a standard for defining and assessing proper behavior in a mad world where occasional accidents are inevitable.

Breach of Duty

The second element of the tort of negligence and a personal injury case is the wrongful conduct itself – the defendant’s act or omission that constitutes a breach. This breach of duty presumes the preexistence of a standard of proper behavior (duty) to avoid establishing undue risks of harm to other persons and their property.


This element establishes the cause-and-effect relationship necessary in any negligence case. Causation in fact provides the essential negligence element that links the defendant’s wrong to the plaintiff’s harm. Unfortunately, many people suffer harm from accidents every day. Some victims are just unlucky. Others incur injuries because another party acted negligently and caused their harm. These parties must bear legal responsibility for their actions.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause, though linked to cause-in-fact, is a separate element unto itself. The element known as “proximate cause” is quite distinct from the element of and the issues raised by factual causation. Assuming some factual connection between a defendant’s breach of duty and the plaintiff’s injury, proximate cause addresses the question of whether in logic, fairness, policy, and practicality, the defendant should be held legally accountable for the plaintiff’s harm that to some extent bears some “remote” relationship to the defendant’s breach.

Harm/Actual Damages

The last element of a negligence claim is harm, the damage a plaintiff suffers as a proximate result of a defendant’s breach of duty. To the extent that money damages can accomplish it, the law requires a negligent tortfeasor to restore the plaintiff’s losses incurred as a proximate result of the defendant’s wrong.

In conclusion, to establish a personal injury claim in California, a plaintiff must prove the following elements. The first prong establishes duty and breach of that duty. The second prong establishes harm, while the third prong establishes cause-in-fact and proximate cause.

  1. The defendant was negligent;
  2. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  3. The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff]’s harm.

If you have suffered an injury in any type of accident, and another party is responsible for the harm caused, you have a right to compensatory damages for your losses. The personal injury attorneys at Moss Bollinger can help you assert your valuable right to compensation. Moss Bollinger is dedicated to protecting and asserting the rights of our clients. Call (310) 982-2291 today for a free consultation or contact us online.

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